Praying Lemons Into Lemonade
July 6, 2017
"O Lord, that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!" – William Shakespeare (King Henry VI, Part 2)
Pastor Michael Barrett Jr., a Culver City resident, freely acknowledges that he has much to be abundantly thankful for, most recently the warm response to his faith-based film, Beyond The Shield, which he wrote and which provided his directorial debut.
It features Omar Gooding of Family, Bounce TV's hit sitcom. The cast includes Patrick Kilpatrick, Thai Edwards, Todd Tetreault, Reyna Day, and La'Kesia Barrett, the director's wife, making her film debut. "That didn't get me any special treatment," she said. "I had to audition for the part!"
The red carpet screening played to a packed house on July 1 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium at 4117 Overland Avenue in Culver City. The master of ceremonies' activities were vibrantly and entertainingly handled by Jo'El Ramirez, radio host of Joy In My House, an inspirational reality radio show.
It is a sad fact of life that periodically situations occur where misunderstandings result in tragedies that resonate with that depicted in this film, a consequence of reactive panic in an adrenaline-charged moment.
The plot could have come from the headlines as it centers on a death caused by a police officer's mistaken perception. The ensuing cover-up and struggle for justice and redemption result in a gripping drama highlighting the power of prayer.
Striking images and powerful, stirring music helped deliver the film's inspirational message to the enthusiastic audience. That enthusiasm remained undiminished when some technical difficulties cropped up. One audience member commented that "glitches can be fixed; they even sometimes happen in major theatrical houses. But the important thing is the message and this is a message everyone needs to hear."
And Barrett is in a unique position to convey that redemptive message because of his own remarkable background, one which includes serving 18 years of a 21-year sentence in federal prisons.
"I do this to glorify God," he explained. "At the end of the day I'm watching the manifestation of what God showed me in a prison setting." "Never give up on your dreams," his wife added in her comments to the audience. "You can't dream too big. You may wonder what is realistic, but what is realistic is what you know God has given you."
This pastor's life story is truly one for the books. In fact, while in prison for running a drug organization, Barrett wrote his autobiography, Choices, explaining that unlike most preachers he did not grow up in the church but in the streets of Harlem, New York and Inglewood and Hawthorne, California where "at a young age I was captivated by the street hustlers my father and uncles were."
Rejecting the counsel of his mother, who tried to instill values that "would have carried me around the generational curse of the ghetto lifestyle," he made choices that landed him in federal prison.
Although the book was originally published with the title of Choices in order to reflect how his life was about the choices he'd made, it is in its second printing with a new name, Surrender, "to acknowledge that during my years away I realized that God had brought me to a place of surrender. From the streets to the feds to the pulpit is my life's journey through the material possessions, women, money, temporary happiness, prison, and trials and tribulations." Barrett emphasized that the story was not meant to glamorize the life he once led but to glorify God for bringing him through it all to a life of service, in spite of who he used to be. An adaptive screenplay of this intriguing book has caught the attention of a producer.
The catharsis Barrett experienced in prison led him to become an ordained minister preaching to inmates, staff, and even wardens. The audience for this screening included two prison guards, indicative of the impression he had made.
He was released in July of 2013 and, in the words of his wife, "was a prison number and is here today, celebrating the gift God has given him."
When Barrett left prison he had a home waiting for him with Pastor Greg Phillips. "He came to live with us and to preach in our church," Phillips said. "I had a mutual friend who told me about him so I talked with Michael by phone prior to his release and we first met the day he was released. He stayed about a year and preached in my church. After a year he found his wife, who was a member of my church, and they married."
In 2014 Barrett received the Father of the Year award through the Fathers and Families Coalition, followed in 2015 by the Difference Maker award from Next Dimension University. He mentors the youth at two different charter schools in Compton, speaks at juvenile hall youth facilities throughout Los Angeles, is a talk show host on Talking With The Barretts, an Elder at Megachurch Love And Unity Christian Fellowship in Compton, the CEO of Kingdomtaiment Media Group (a film/music company that he and his wife run in Inglewood), and now a director of his first feature film, Beyond The Shield, with a second film based on his autobiography likely to materialize.
Barrett's life exemplifies the saying about turning lemons into lemonade, as prison is not something commonly thought of as a sweet or positive experience. However, the transformative effect of faith is not to be discounted because in 2004 he had a born again experience while in a prayer circle in a prison chapel, triggering his spiritual renaissance.
"Sometimes in life we have to lose what we think is everything in order to know what everything truly is," Barrett mused. "Life is all about choices and I made the choice to surrender to God."
He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.kingdomtainment.com.